A woman in California caught a potentially fatal meningitis infection from smoking medical cannabis. This is the first case of meningitis contracted from cannabis.
According to a case study report published on the British Medical Journal in December, the 48-year-old unnamed woman developed meningitis in 2016. She reportedly smoked her favorite medical cannabis strain up to six times a day.
The infection can develop from inhaling contaminated dust or by consuming food that has been touched by mice and by their feces. But, in this case, the infection came from cryptococcus, which is a type of fungus.
Meningitis is considered to be the most common illness that develops from exposure to cryptococcus. This then causes a deadly inflammation in the spinal cord and in the brain.
Symptoms of meningitis
The woman got her cannabis from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She then started to notice symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, aggressive behavior, and even remembering her own name. Her behavior got so erratic that she lost her job as administrative assistant before she got admitted to the hospital.
Moreover, the emergency room team at CSMC could not determine the medical condition she was suffering. They even called in the psychiatric department after she assaulted a nurse.
It was only when the doctors took a sample of her brain fluid that they found out what was wrong. The sample tested positive for Cryptococcus neoformans, which is a rare fungal infection that is usually only seen in transplant patients and in individuals suffering from late stage HIV.
The woman got treated, but if the doctors had not been as prudent, she wouldn’t have made it.
Dr. Bryan Shapiro, the doctor who treated the woman, together with a team of experts, investigated the woman’s favorite medical cannabis dispensary in Bakersfield as she was recovering. The woman purchases cheaper strains that were grown locally outdoors.
After doing a DNA sequencing of nine samples, the team discovered small amounts of the rare fungus. This, according to Shapiro, lent credibility to the theory that cryptococcus in the cannabis plant is what caused the system malfunction in the woman and that smoking might predispose an individual to invasive fungal infection.
California’s mold, pesticide and contaminants problem
Shapiro warns cannabis smokers about contaminated weed. He said that smokers in the state, especially those who have compromised immune system, should make sure that they know where their stash came from.
What happened to the woman in 2016 was telling of the state’s growing cannabis contamination problem.
A study conducted last year had found evidence of pesticides, mold, and other contaminants on much of the state’s locally grown cannabis. More than 90 percent of the plants that were tested were found to be contaminated with pesticides, while plants from 20 different cannabis farms tested positive for mold.
It is common knowledge that soil in Bakersfield and in the surrounding Central Valley is a breeding ground for another fungus called Coccidioides immitis. This fungus, when inhaled, is responsible for a bunch of infection cases called “valley fever.”
Valley fever is a severe lung infection and its symptoms are akin to that of flu. This has killed nearly 100 Californians since the start of the year.
The spores of the cryptococcus and the coccidioides are very heat resistant. This means that they can survive even if they have been lit up and smoked.
The main problem is in clones
In October 2016, California cannabis testing laboratory Steep Hill had estimated that 84 percent of locally grown cannabis was not fit for human consumption. And in September 2017, the lab reported that much of the widespread pesticide problem in the state can be traced back to clone.
After realizing that there was something wrong in the cannabis supply chain, Steep Hill tested a theory that clones were the problem. A total of 124 clones from different cannabis producers and dispensaries were tested for potentially dangerous pesticides and only 22 percent passed the state’s pesticide thresholds. This means that 77.4 percent of the clones failed the state’s proposed cannabis pesticide regulations, which are stricter compared to those of other legalized states.
The levels of pesticide found in some plants were as high as 8,300 times the state’s threshold limits. Many clone samples, however, exhibited very low levels – so low that environmental degradation could render mature plants grown from these clones fit for consumption.
The report also noted that the contamination seemingly stemmed from the growth medium used instead of from direct application.